Furia Juggernaut Review
Article on the end of Hunters & Collectors and the Juggernaut album.
Author: Glenn McDonald.
Original URL: http://www.furia.com/twas/twas0165.html
Hunters and Collectors are another of my favorite serials coming to a graceful end, as this 1997 album is apparently their final one, as well. This tale lasted a bit longer than the Posies’, played out over the course of about seventeen years, nine studio albums, a few EPs, and a handful of live albums and compilations, but Hunters and Collectors’ commercial fortunes, at least from an American vantage point, describe the same familiar parabola: the first three albums, despite the edgy minor hit “Talking to a Stranger”, are footnotes; the middle ones (Human Frailty and Fate on IRS in 1987 and 1988, Ghost Nation on Atlantic in 1989) were their opportunity for stardom, the plaintive love song “Throw Your Arms Around Me” perhaps both their finest moment and best chance. After fame didn’t happen, the final trilogy, Cut, Demon Flower and Juggernaut, only erratically available here, are the band’s resilient response.
Unlike the Posies’, though, Hunters and Collectors’ journey never seemed to me like it had a master plan behind it. Their style evolved, as the records went by, but they never seemed to get out of the shadow of Midnight Oil, just like the Alarm never managed to escape the gravity of U2. The parallels are almost indistinguishable, actually. All four bands traded on anthemic grandeur and fierce resolve, but U2 and Midnight Oil found causes to which to dedicate their anthems, and thus ended up representing bigger things than themselves. The Alarm and Hunters and Collectors’ anthems, though, with only occasional exceptions, were generic, recursive exhortations to stand up for your right to stand up for your right to stand up for your right. They’re hardly alone (Madonna got plenty of mileage out of the content-less battle cry “Express yourself!”, which spins through exactly the same loop), plenty of rock bands (most, even) have secured places in history without ever making a political point, and it’s hardly fair to use U2 and Midnight Oil as standards to which all other bands must be compared, but in both cases I think the juxtapositions were simply too suggestive. It was too easy, for too long, to think that the Alarm and Hunters and Collectors were doing the same things U2 and Midnight Oil were, only not as well.
Now, of course, when most people have stopped caring, it’s possible to tease apart the four strands without much difficulty. When we go back and watch Bono, in his sleeveless shirt at Red Rocks, holding up his flag, the image is now the beginning of a montage whose subsequent frames find him in increasingly egotistical and iconic poses, passion giving way, year by year, to a sort of cultural distemper, as if collective adulation has warped a leader into an obscene caricature of the led. In the old pictures of the Alarm, on the other hand, they are scrawny cautionary poster-children for the dangers of hair-spray abuse, and with no subsequent contradictions to interfere (as long as you forget, like most people have, the glossy synthesizers of Eye of the Hurricane, and the entirety of Raw, the ghastly final album they should have broken up before recording) their battered acoustic guitars remain emblematic of the defiant spirit of punk, a DIY aesthetic of even more homely origins than the original electric one. Midnight Oil, on the strength of the aborigine-rights epic Diesel and Dust, has ended up assuming the mantle of political advocacy that U2 discarded. Hunters and Collectors, who never found a cause of comparable stature, continued to write songs about smaller battles, the struggles of daily lives. This is no less noble an occupation, I contend, but it doesn’t lend itself as well to grand gestures. Whose headquarters will you play on a flatbed in front of to dramatize the difficult lives of prison guards, or the way magnificent quests can abandon their crusaders?
Juggernaut, in the end, is a fitting self-description. Hunters and Collectors were nothing if not a force, an eight-piece band in an era of trios and quartets, a collective in an era of revolving casts (seven of the eight members on Juggernaut played on every album, and the newcomer, Barry Palmer, joined them in 1989), unpretentious in an era of experimentation and affect. If, as with the Alarm, and, for that matter, The Castle, every chapter of the Hunters and Collectors story carried basically the same message (“We understand what you fight, and we will fight beside you”), it was a message I didn’t mind hearing again every year or two. Hunters and Collectors didn’t inhabit an isolated story of their own, to me, they supplied a thread of the much larger story rock music told together. They spoke about courage and loyalty, old fashioned values that go in and out of fashion without becoming any more or less important. It was a small part in the overall drama, but the small parts matter, and sometimes the selflessness required to play them properly is a more elusive discipline than the charisma called for by the leads.
And so the wistfulness evident in Hunters and Collectors’ farewell, at the end of their longer, straighter journey, is of a different sort than the Posies’. Where the Posies were writing a conclusion that also functioned as a plot twist in its own right, Juggernaut is more like an epilogue. Cut and Demon Flower didn’t leave many loose ends that needed tidying, and the 1995 double-live album, Living…In Large Rooms and Lounges, already took care of reminiscence. Juggernaut feels, to me, more like they just wanted to pull the bus to a slow halt, instead of jumping off it while it was still in motion. The songs are smaller, muted and slower, built out of sustainable emotions, instead of catharses, closer for once to Crowded House than Midnight Oil. I keep thinking “She Is Not Fooling Around”, in particular, is going to slide into “Not the Girl You Think You Are”, and “Good Man Down” into “Weather With You”. “True Believers” turns on a simmering keyboard wash and mournful, legato trumpets. “Higher Plane” flits from dust-bowl blues stomp to a “Dancing in the Dark”-like hum. “When You Fall” is a hushed sequel to “Throw Your Arms Around Me” and “Say Goodbye”. “Suit Your Style” runs through the circling, dance-y canter introduced on Cut once more. “Human Kind” is like the slow song to end a party Oingo Boingo performed at. “Those Days Are Gone”, at the junctures when, on previous albums, the band would probably have slammed into the next gear, here instead retreats into acoustic guitar and pensive organ. And “Long Way to the Water”, the final song, is a drifting ballad to sing us to sleep (with a quiet reprise of “True Believers” to make us think we dreamed it all). “We can’t go back, and we can’t stand still”, Seymour sings, “so we’re leaving this world behind”. It is exit music; Hunters and Collectors are playing themselves out. There is a reason that it’s sunsets the heroes always ride off into, that songs end with fade-outs, that we say goodbye to people as they leave us; all these things are tactics to support the fiction that our experience of the world is consequential, that things really do end when they pass out of our sight. I start to cry out, to stop them, to see if they’ll come back one more time, because I can tell, even before they’ve vanished, that I’m going to miss them. But then, they’ll probably miss me, too. And we both have lives we should be getting on with.